We might be happy – but we're not all in it together

Measuring wellbeing is a nebulous business - and what can be done with the data?

Share
Related Topics

How happy are you, out of 10? It's a weird question. You and I might be in roughly the same state, except you might give it an eight because you don't like the idea of not being contented, and I might give it a six because I'm self-indulgent enough to think my life could get even better. The very act of asking yourself might make you suddenly anxious that you are not as cheerful as you ought to be, and therefore a mark lower on the scale than you might have been when you weren't thinking about it. The human condition is hard to quantify, and hard to explicate, and harder still to do anything about.

All of that makes for a strange policy goal. Still, David Cameron has decided that where Proust failed, the Office for National Statistics may succeed, and so we're giving it a go. The study of our well-being published yesterday is supposed to give an indication of how we're doing. According to the figures, the answer is: sort of all right, actually. Our economy might have double-dipped, but our moods have stayed pretty even. (On average, we give ourselves a 7.1, a figure that seems about right: the kind of happiness that comes with a nice cup of tea, say, rather than a trip to the Maldives.)

The ONS suggests a key factor in that surprising good cheer is that, whatever else has been going on, employment's held up pretty well – and having a job is essential. That's a heartening conclusion, not least in the way that it suggests we're not quite as dismally materialistic as it can often seem. But like I said, this is a nebulous business. If people feel better with jobs, should we transform the system to aim for full employment above all other goals? Lots of people feel chipper after a major sporting summer like this one, for example. Does that mean we should divert resources from the welfare state to fund more of them?

The answer to both questions is plainly no. And this points to a possible wider conclusion it's important to knock down before it gets any purchase. Whether an austerity programme is essential or not, no one who supports such a policy should do so on the basis that it doesn't really do anyone any harm.

Those of us who avoid the worst of it will be fine however brutal the cuts, it's true; but for a minority who find themselves facing the consequences personally, the impact will be enormous. Most of us are all right, most of the time, and whether we are at a 7.1 or a 7.0 is surely beyond the Government's purview. The real question is how to look after the ones who never ask themselves how happy they are because they're too busy trying to survive.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore